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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

It's a Russian, Regional and Global Issue

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According to reports, discussions between German Chancellor Gerhard Schr?der and President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg will touch (but not dwell) upon the NTV crisis. Most likely, Schr?der will express his "concern" and Putin will respond by assuring his guest that he is committed to freedom of the press. And then they'll change the subject.

But that would be a shame. Many in the West do not seem to understand the broad significance of the NTV conflict. The NTV journalists have clearly struck a chord with citizens throughout Russia. Some regional cities held rallies and started gathering signatures in opposition to the takeover of NTV and a de facto state monopoly of national television even before Moscow did. In recent days, these protest actions have touched dozens of cities.

If these citizens put no stock in Putin's lukewarm defense of press freedom and the Kremlin's claims that the takeover is merely a private business dispute (albeit one with extremely convenient consequences for the authorities), then neither should Schr?der. Europe needs not just a stable neighbor (such as it had during the Soviet era), but a stable, democratic neighbor (such as it has never had in Russia).

If Russia had a more vigorous nonstate press, countries like Switzerland and Spain would probably not find themselves dragged into its murky legal disputes, and the contours of the international debt problem that Schr?der and Putin will also discuss would most likely be entirely different.

Click here to read our special report on the Struggle for Media-MOST.

And then there is the regional dimension. The West does not seem to realize that NTV was a vital source of information not just for Russia, but for the entire former Soviet Union.

Liberal-minded citizens throughout the FSU are worried about NTV. Activists from Ukraine, Belarus, Armenia and other FSU countries have expressed alarm. "We citizens of other countries also need NTV, just like free-thinking Russians do," wrote Azer Hasret, chairman of the Journalists' Trade Union of Azerbaijan. "By attacking NTV, Russia is setting a bad example for the other post-Soviet countries, including Azerbaijan. The struggle for freedom of the press in Russia is also the struggle for the same freedom in the other countries of the FSU."

Schr?der should keep all of these issues in mind when Putin trots out the "it's just a business dispute" line. The truth is that this conflict will have long-lasting ramifications throughout the region, ramifications that could cost Europe a bundle. Some serious talk from Schr?der now could really make a difference.